Top News: UN Condemns Syria over Rights Violations

A UN General Assembly committee strongly condemned human rights violations in Syria and said perpetrators of war crimes should face trial. A resolution presented by Saudi Arabia was adopted by a vote of 115 to 15, with 51 abstentions. China, Iran, and Russia were among the countries that voted against the measure that now goes to the full General Assembly. The resolution stressed the need for accountability and encouraged the UN Security Council to take action, noting that the International Criminal Court (ICC) could play a role. An attempt last year to refer Syria to the ICC for war crimes was blocked by Russia and China. [AFP, UN Press Release, 11/20/2015]



Sisi says security at airports being revised; Germany, UK willing to cooperate
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Thursday that his country has taken many steps to boost security at ports of entry following the October 31 crash of a Russian airliner and vowed to not stop until all security loopholes are closed. Sisi’s comments came as ambassadors from Germany and the UK met with Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal to discuss cooperative measures to increase the security of Egyptian airports. Meanwhile, several measures have already been put in place. The Egyptian Holding Airport and Air Navigation Company activated a security check plan in airports nationwide at a cost of EGP 175 million. The plan involves renewing and replacing airport radiation scanners for passengers, cargo, luggage, parcels, and vehicles. EgyptAir is also reportedly allowing passengers on flights bound for the United States and Canada to carry checked baggage only, and they will no longer be allowed to check “giant” cargo. The Customs Authority also confiscated eleven watches equipped with cameras from an Egyptian passenger at Cairo Airport Thursday. The watches are banned in Egypt because it is said they could be used to harm national security. [AP, 11/20/2015]

CIC student abducted by gunmen says student union
The Canadian International College (CIC) student union said in a statement Friday on its Facebook page that a student at the university was abducted by gunmen. The statement read, “We confirm that Canadian International College (CIC) Faculty of Engineering third year student Seif Ismail has been abducted…from outside the university’s gate by unidentified gunmen.” Ismail’s friends were beaten and college security personnel did not interfere despite being present, according to the statement. Those who attempted to rescue Ismail were threatened with guns, according to the student union. The abductors threatened the students trying to help Ismail with a gun and yelled: “Back off! State Security!” [Egypt Independent, 11/20/2015]

Five protesters arrested in Mohamed Mahmoud anniversary commemoration
Five people were arrested for demonstrating on the October 6 Bridge on Thursday afternoon to mark the deadly clashes between protesters and security forces that broke out on on Mohamed Mahmoud Street on November 19 four years ago. A group of protesters stood along the bridge holding signs that called for the rights of the martyrs and the release of those detained. Details of the arrests were not available at the time of publishing, but the Freedom for the Brave Facebook page said the detained protesters were being interrogated by national security forces at the Qasr al-Nil police station in Cairo’s Garden City neighborhood. [DNE, Mada Masr, 11/19/2015]

Foreign Ministry gears up for second round of parliamentary elections
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry has finished preparations for Egyptians expatriates to vote in the second round of parliamentary elections due to be held on Saturday and Sunday in 104 constituencies. The ministry coordinated with the High Elections Committee (HEC), the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, and the Ministry of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform to test the electronic system through which Egyptian expatriates will cast their ballots. Meanwhile, the HEC called on anyone who has evidence of violations parliamentary candidates committed during the campaigning period to submit their complaints to the HEC. A parliamentary candidate in Ismailia and two of his friends were referred to the prosecution Thursday for fabricating the abduction of his son. Yassin Mohamed alleged he received a phone call with an ultimatum, and the abductors demanded a ransom of 500,000 EGP ($63,800) or that he withdraw from the parliamentary race. Investigations revealed that the defendants allegedly staged the kidnapping to gain voters’ sympathy, according to the police. [SIS, 11/20/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Libyan-American group files complaint to UN about envoy
The Libyan American Public Affairs Council (LAPAC) said Thursday it has filed a complaint with the United Nations demanding it investigate the circumstances surrounding the hiring of former UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon by the United Arab Emirates, which backs one of the country’s rival governments. LAPAC’s complaint was filed to the UN Secretary General’s office, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services. In it, the group says accepting a monetary offer from a foreign government that is party to a conflict that Leon was entrusted to mediate represents a conflict of interest and gave an unfair advantage to one side of the conflict. LAPAC is a non-governmental organization that says it is not affiliated with any government entity in Libya. It says it did not consult with or coordinate its complaint with the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, which has also demanded an explanation from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Separately, Abdulgader al-Huwaili, head of the GNC’s Political Affairs Committee, said its lawmakers plan to issue a statement addressed to the UN saying they will not recognize Leon’s replacement, Martin Kobler, as envoy to Libya unless the UN opens a “transparent investigation” into this issue. [AP, 11/19/2015]

Senate confirms veteran diplomat as US ambassador to Libya
The Senate has confirmed President Barack Obama’s choice for US ambassador to Libya, Peter William Bodde. He succeeds Deborah Jones, and is expected to take up the appointment before the end of the month. The diplomatic mission to Libya currently operates out of Tunis. Bodde has been ambassador to Nepal since 2012. Before that, he was an Assistant Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Baghdad. [AP, Libya Herald, US Senate, 11/19/2015]

Tunisia condemns three to death for murder of police
A Tunisian court has condemned three jihadists to death, including two tried in absentia, for the murder of a policeman in 2013, judicial sources said Thursday. Nine Tunisians were tried for the May 2013 murder. Apart from the death sentences, two defendants were jailed for life and the four others, including one tried in absentia, were handed prison terms of between three and twenty years. Faced with an upsurge in jihadist violence that has killed dozens of police and soldiers since the country’s 2011 revolution, a new law adopted in July maintains the death sentence despite the appeals of rights group for it to be abolished. [AFP, 11/20/2015]

Tunisia uses anti-terror law to prosecute journalists
The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have criticized the decision of the Ministry of Justice to pursue criminal prosecutions against journalists involved in the broadcasting of images of murdered shepherd Mabrouk Soltani. The Ministry of Justice claims that broadcasting the images ran counter to Article 31 of the Anti-Terrorism Law and the country’s penal code. Head of Communications at SNJT Mahdi Jlassi said, “The problem is that the ministry is using anti-terrorism laws to persecute journalists. It is a clear attempt from the government to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for journalists.” [Tunisia Live, 11/19/2015]


Russian strikes in Syria kill more than 1,300 says SOHR
More than 1,300 people, around two-thirds of them combatants, have been killed in Russian air strikes in Syria since the aerial campaign began on September 30, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Friday. The figure supplied by SOHR is more than double the toll it gave in its last report on the Russian campaign three weeks ago. The monitoring group said it had documented 1,331 deaths in Russian air strikes, most of them of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) jihadists or other fighters. It said 381 ISIS fighters had been killed, along with 547 militants from the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front and other rebel forces. The strikes also killed 403 civilians, including ninety-seven children, according to the monitor. SOHR’s last toll for the campaign, on October 29, put the number of killed at nearly 600. [AFP, 11/20/2015]

Saudi Arabia to host Syrian opposition talks, says state media
Saudi Arabia will host a conference in mid-December aimed at unifying the Syrian opposition, the state-owned Al Arabiya television station has announced. The conference comes after an international agreement to launch talks between Syria’s government and opposition by the first of January. Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the UN Abdallah al-Mouallimi said the conference would include “all shades of the opposition” including figures based inside Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry said he expected a conference within two weeks or sooner to bring together the various factions of the Syrian opposition. “And at that point the United Nations is prepared to convene the parties in Geneva and begin the process of creating this transitional process for Syria itself,” he told reporters. [The Guardian, 11/19/2015]

Turkey renews plans for Syria safe zone
Turkey has renewed its plans to roll back ISIS from a stretch of territory along its border with Syria and create a safe zone, which reportedly calls for Ankara and Washington to back rebels with air strikes. Earlier in the week, Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirloglu and his US counterpart John Kerry both told the press that plans were in motion to tackle ISIS’s presence along the Turkish border, but neither elaborated on their dramatic statements. On Thursday, London-based Alaraby Aljadeed went into details on the anticipated military campaign, reporting that the “operation will begin very soon.” The source flatly ruled out the possibility of the country’s ground forces conducting any cross-border operations. Meanwhile, a source privy to decision making in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) told Alaraby Aljadeed that Ankara was pressing to start the military operation “as soon as possible.” [NOW, 11/20/2015]

Turkey seizes 11 million pills of ‘Syria war drug’
The Turkish authorities have seized a record haul of almost 11 million pills of the synthetic stimulant drug Captagon, which is believed to play a crucial part in Syria’s civil war, reports said Friday. Anti-narcotics police confiscated over 10.9 million pills weighing almost two tons in two separate raids in the Hatay region on the border with Syria, the Interior Ministry said. Captagon is a hugely popular drug in the Middle East and produced in Syria. It has been repeatedly dubbed as the drug fueling Syria’s civil war since its production provides income for the warring factions and keeps fighters awake and energized over long periods. One Syrian citizen and two Turkish nationals have been detained on suspicion of trying to organize the smuggling, the reports said. [AFP, 11/20/2015]

Bombings kill at least fifteen in Baghdad
Bomb attacks on a Shia mosque and elsewhere in southern Baghdad killed at least fifteen people Friday as a top religious official urged unity among Iraqis in the fight against ISIS. The deadliest of the attacks targeted the mosque in the Iraqi capital’s Nahiyet al-Rasheed neighborhood just as worshippers were finishing Friday prayers. Ten people were killed and twenty-eight were wounded in that coordinated attack. Two separate roadside bombs exploded in commercial areas of southeast Baghdad, killing five additional people and wounding nine. [AP, 11/20/2015]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Islamic State claims Yemen attack
Attacks on military posts in Shibam killed at least nineteen soldiers. Shibam is located in Hadramawt province, where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has held the capital Mukalla since March. Despite initial claims that AQAP staged the attack, the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has claimed responsibility. A security source said that Jalal Balaidi, a key commander of AQAP affiliate Ansar al-Sharia was behind the attack. Reports of Ansar al-Sharia’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS have circulated since the group’s declaration of a caliphate in June 2014. Security sources claimed that nineteen Yemeni soldiers were killed along with thirty-five militants; ISIS claimed that fifty soldiers had been killed while only one of their fighters were killed. [Reuters, Al-Masdar (Arabic), 11/20/2015]

Senior UN relief official warns health and education systems in Yemen ‘near collapse’
John Ging, head of United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in a statement on Thursday, “Peace is the only solution to prevent a humanitarian disaster.” While virtually every aspect of Yemeni life has been affected, Ging noted that education and health sectors have been hit the hardest. He further noted that the sharp reduction in imports and a ban on exports have reduced public and commercial revenues, resulting in collapsing services. The Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has imposed a blockade on the country since it intervened in the country’s civil war in March. Despite the efforts of humanitarian agencies operating in the country, Ging said that this assistance is no substitute for Yemen’s basic services. [UN News, 11/19/2015]

Saudi court sentences poet to death for renouncing Islam
A Saudi court ordered the execution of Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet, for renouncing Islam. Fayadh was originally sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes by a general court in Abha in May 2015, but was recently retried last month after his appeal was dismissed and judges ruled that his repentance could not prevent his execution. Following his arrest in 2014, authorities confiscated his ID and Fayadh as been unable to hire a lawyer since then as a result. Fayadh’s death sentence follows other controversial decisions from the Kingdom’s courts, like blogger Raif al-Badawi’s public flogging and the death sentence for Ali al-Nimr, convicted as a minor. [Guardian, 11/20/2015]

Kuwait crackdown on alleged ISIS supporting extremist cell
Authorities in Kuwait announced that six persons had been detained in connection to providing material support to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Kuwait’s Interior Ministry reported that a Lebanese national was among them who confessed to buying ammunition and rockets for ISIS. Authorities also believe the cell was helping to recruit fighters and raise money that the members eventually funnelled to an alleged ISIS-linked bank account in Turkey. [BBC, 11/20/2015]


Egypt, Russia sign deal to build a nuclear power plant
Russia on Thursday signed an agreement with Egypt to build the country’s first nuclear power plant. Russia also agreed to extend a loan to Egypt to cover the cost of construction. A spokesman for Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom said the plant will be built at Dabaa in the north of the country and is expected to be completed by 2022. It is unclear how much the deal is worth, but President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the loan from Russia would be paid off over thirty-five years. “The country and the balance sheet will not bear the cost of building this plant. It will be paid back through the actual production of electricity that will be generated by this plant,” he said. Sisi gave few details about the project, but said it would involve the building of a “third-generation” plant with four reactors. “This was a long dream for Egypt, to have a peaceful nuclear program to produce electricity,” he added. Head of Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom Sergey Kiriyenko said the plant will be the largest Russian-Egyptian project since the Aswan dam. “It will mark a truly new chapter in the history of our bilateral relations,” he said. [Ahram Online, DW, DNE, Reuters, SIS, CNN, 11/19/2015]

Glencore seals Libyan oil deal in scramble for profits
Trading house Glencore has secured a deal to buy as much as half of the oil Libya is currently exporting as it looks to boost trading to help offset flagging profits from mining. The deal offers offer Libya steady sales to international buyers and shifts risks associated with loading oil and chartering vessels at ports to Glencore. Under the arrangement with Libya’s state-run National Oil Corporation, which began in September, Glencore loads and finds buyers for all the Sarir and Messla crude oil exported from the Marsa al-Hariga port. Hariga, which exports up to 140,000 barrels per day, has become Libya’s largest exporting terminal, as the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf terminals remain closed. [Reuters, 11/20/2015]

Kuwait likely to name new oil minister in reshuffle
Kuwait is likely to name a new oil minister soon in a limited energy reshuffle. Sources said Thursday that current Oil Minister Ali al-Omair, who has been facing opposition from within the oil sector, is likely to be replaced, but no official decision has yet been made. One source said that a new acting oil minister is expected to be named early next week. Another source said there may also be changes to the board of the Kuwait’s state run oil companies. Omair recently tried to introduce some changes to the management of state oil companies but was blocked. A reshuffle in the Oil Ministry would not mean a change in Kuwait’s oil policy. A change in policy requires final approval from Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah. [Reuters, 11/19/2015]

Consumer confidence jumps in Turkey after election
Turkey’s consumer confidence index increased in November to its highest level since April 2014, with a 22.9 point rise from last month. According to analysts, the reason behind the jump in consumer confidence is the increase in positive expectations regarding Turkey’s general economic outlook following snap parliamentary elections earlier this month. “We believe the main reason in the sharp rise is a boost in people’s positive feelings about the future of the general economic outlook,” said Garanti Investment Chief Economist Gizem Oztok Altınsac. Turkey’s consumer confidence index fell to its lowest level since January 2009 in September. [Hurriyet, 11/20/2015]